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Lessons learned using this initial PBL approach

1. More time than a few weeks is required for the analysis. The students need additional time to formulate their plan as well as time to actually experience failure in the laboratory with the opportunity to try again. Too often students experience failure (no product or erroneous results), yet there is not time in the current laboratory courses for them to try to learn from their mistakes. For most of our students, they only learn from their mistakes if they participate in undergraduate research. This initial project showed that some students are motivated to bring the analysis to completion.

1a) Additionally, newer faculty may be faced with completely revamping the curriculum. For those in a research university (such as Rensselaer) this is time consuming and given the current research funding climate could potentially be disastrous for new faculty seeking tenure.

2. The quality of the lecture was improved due to student participation and questions that would arise about how a particular instrument might be used for the analysis. In addition to the guest lecture by Joyce Zucker, the instructor spent time in the lecture course discussing art analysis applications when different instruments were discussed. In addition to the lecture notes, two separate brainstorming sessions were included where the students and instructor talked about the different component parts that may be in the samples and how to address analyzing each of these sections.

3. The students were concerned about not properly treating the samples and thus wasting a precious sample. This is a legitimate concern. For this reason, while the students will still analyze the original art sample, a greater emphasis in the future will focus on developing "model" chemical systems with student input and participation. These model systems will be used to validate and test analysis methods prior to the analysis of the real art sample. Additionally, these model systems will give the students an opportunity to repeat an analysis that gives questionable results.

4. The course instructor must provide greater oversight to the problem development and implementation plan. This is particularly important at research institutions. My experience suggests that instructors who plan to bring forth project based learning at a research institution should either develop it slowly over many years time or ask for a teaching load reduction so as to spend the necessary time to be able to develop an effective and well-organized laboratory course.

5. The graduate student TAs needed more time to become familiar with the complexities involved with these types of analyses. The TAs were not familiar with the derivatization procedures and the instrumentation prior to the start of the course.

6. Undergraduate students who have completed the course are your best resource for the next class. The more senior students would be consultants to the junior students. These students can be encouraged to be TAs for the course if they are either paid or given credit. These undergraduate students will provide more continuity than graduate course TAs which will undergo significant turnover due to the available graduate student TA pool. The undergraduates then develop leadership and communication skills that are useful for positions either in graduate school (where they would have to TA as well) or industrial positions where they will have to learn principles of project management. {As an aside, Mr. Vissani has obtained a challenging position at General Electric’s Research & Development site in Niskayuna NY in their Analytical Chemistry core.}

I have used this option of giving a student credit for being a TA in a special case a few years ago where a double-major student got out of sequence and was not able to take Quantitative Analysis until his senior year. I offered him an undergraduate TA position for credit and he was responsible for knowing the chemistry and explaining it to the sophomores. This student is now a successful graduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He repeatedly emailed me in his first semester to thank me since he felt very well prepared and confident as a TA in graduate school for Organic Chemistry and knew some of the problems, particularly safety and lack of student preparation, that can arise during a laboratory course and he had developed skills and strategies to effectively deal with these problems.